Ask entrepreneurs about their business and they will refer to their company as their “baby.” Why? Because they are emotionally invested in it; they care about it, they are passionate about it, and want it to grow up and be successful. The ties between an owner and a company can be similar to parenthood. While many of our mothers and grandmothers were primarily caretakers, more women today are at the helm of companies or even launching their own business. Whether or not we have a lot of professional experience in our past, motherhood prepares women for being great business leaders.
I often get asked – “How do you juggle it all?” How can you train for a marathon, run a business and get your kids to school on time, put food on the dinner table (albeit healthy food!) and still manage to find time for some afternoon yoga? The short answer is that I follow two important rules: 1) I try to get 7-8 hours of sleep per night and 2) I make several lists and prioritize tasks. While others marvel at the talent of accomplishing a lot, I have several friends and peers that in their own way also seem to “juggle it all,” and most of them are mothers. Mothers have a special bond and understanding in that we are capable of squeezing in a workout, feeding a family, preparing lunches for kids, finding missing shin guards, taking a business call and getting kids off to school all before 8am. This is “a normal” for us. It’s these same characteristics that also help us be great businesswomen. Below are a few lessons that motherhood has taught me (and many women), which we apply to our role as business leaders on a daily basis:
In raising children, we deal with disagreements and discipline everyday. We break-up fights, we teach our kids to respect, love and hug and tell them that they are the only brothers (or sisters) that they will ever have in their lives. So do this as a team. Find strengths amongst the corporate team, have everyone focus on what they do best and encourage teamwork as much as possible.
Our children teach us patience. From waiting out the 9 months of pregnancy to taking the extra minutes to wait for your 4-year old to tie his shoe (because that’s what’s important), it’s the same lesson of patience we follow for when it comes to training and teaching new team members. Can we do it better? Likely yes, but if you let others practice and continue to teach them, they soon will be almost as good as you (and might even teach you a thing or to) at their new task. I think of sports and skiing, slowly following my son down the mountain on his second day out and then one year later, he’s beginning to call me a “slow poke.” Before I know it, he’ll be flying by be on the mogul runs. In business, I have team members that can run social media circles around me and/or organize spreadsheets more effectively because of the initial building blocks I established for them.
Face to Face Interaction:
My husband once had a disagreement with a business associate and the business associate ignored him, wouldn’t take his calls and would even go out of his way to ignore him. Our 7 year old said to my husband, “Why aren’t you friends with him anymore?” My husband replied, “Well, because he doesn’t like papa anymore.” My son said, “Well, that’s kind of sad. Why don’t you go over to his house and ask him if he wants to be your friend again?” My son didn’t ask my husband to text message John, rather he asked him to go to his house and meet him in person. Face to face conversations is what young kids know before they are exposed to too much technology. At the end of the day, the best relationships and the best conversations happen “live,” face to face, eye to eye. Relationships are very important. Invest time into people and getting to know them. Don’t make it all about you. Relationships are the most important and part of success and happiness and good business. A disagreement is not resolved over email, rather, in person or via phone if geography is a challenge.
As mothers, we try to listen as much as we can. I constantly take privileges away from my kids for “not listening” and we routinely hear teachers talk about “being good listeners.” When we listen, we can better understand what team members need. And don’t just “hear,” but truly listen, and have conversations that incorporate everyone’s work ideas.
When there is something to be built, a Lego castle, a puzzle or even a meal where we need to follow cookbook instructions, we simplify. I’ve learned to apply this to business challenges. Take the large challenge and break it up into simple steps. For example, when faced with task for creating an overarching marketing plan, you can start with questions such as, “Who is our audience and Who do we need to get product in front of?” Or, “What problem does product or service solve?” When dealing with our kids, we automatically simplify when it comes to following instructions – there is almost always a “Step 1.”
Everything is a negotiation. If you eat your peas, you get a cookie. “So how many peas do I need to eat to get two cookies?” Or if you behave really well at Sunday church, you’ll get donuts afterwards. Compromise and negotiation is just as common and important in business. Ultimately, both parties should feel satisfied with the final terms.
From managing personalities to managing projects, being a parent prepares you well to be flexible and ready for whatever life and business throws at you. As mothers, we know how to multi-task but and be efficient but at the end of day, it’s about combining several of the characteristic above to empower our kids and business colleagues to be the best they can be and setting the ego aside. Mothers and good leaders tend to give more than receive. They empower their children and their team members to grow, be it at the boardroom or in the playroom.
Women have come a long way in redefining beauty to be more inclusive of different body types, skin colors and hair styles, but society's beauty standards still remain as high as we have always known them to be. In the workplace, professionalism is directly linked to the appearance of both men and women, but for women, the expectations and requirements needed to fit the part are far stricter. Unlike men, there exists a direct correlation between beauty and respect that women are forced to acknowledge, and in turn comply with, in order to succeed.
Before stepping foot into the workforce, women who choose to opt out of conventional beauty and grooming regiments are immediately at a disadvantage. A recent Forbes article analyzing the attractiveness bias at work cited a comprehensive academic review for its study on the benefits attractive adults receive in the labor market. A summary of the review stated, "'Physically attractive individuals are more likely to be interviewed for jobs and hired, they are more likely to advance rapidly in their careers through frequent promotions, and they earn higher wages than unattractive individuals.'" With attractiveness and success so tightly woven together, women often find themselves adhering to beauty standards they don't agree with in order to secure their careers.
Complying with modern beauty standards may be what gets your foot in the door in the corporate world, but once you're in, you are expected to maintain your appearance or risk being perceived as unprofessional. While it may not seem like a big deal, this double standard has become a hurdle for businesswomen who are forced to fit this mold in order to earn respect that men receive regardless of their grooming habits. Liz Elting, Founder and CEO of the Elizabeth Elting Foundation, is all too familiar with conforming to the beauty culture in order to command respect, and has fought throughout the course of her entrepreneurial journey to override this gender bias.
As an internationally-recognized women's advocate, Elting has made it her mission to help women succeed on their own, but she admits that little progress can be made until women reclaim their power and change the narrative surrounding beauty and success. In 2016, sociologists Jaclyn Wong and Andrew Penner conducted a study on the positive association between physical attractiveness and income. Their results concluded that "attractive individuals earn roughly 20 percent more than people of average attractiveness," not including controlling for grooming. The data also proves that grooming accounts entirely for the attractiveness premium for women as opposed to only half for men. With empirical proof that financial success in directly linked to women's' appearance, Elting's desire to have women regain control and put an end to beauty standards in the workplace is necessary now more than ever.
Although the concepts of beauty and attractiveness are subjective, the consensus as to what is deemed beautiful, for women, is heavily dependent upon how much effort she makes towards looking her best. According to Elting, men do not need to strive to maintain their appearance in order to earn respect like women do, because while we appreciate a sharp-dressed man in an Armani suit who exudes power and influence, that same man can show up to at a casual office in a t-shirt and jeans and still be perceived in the same light, whereas women will not. "Men don't have to demonstrate that they're allowed to be in public the way women do. It's a running joke; show up to work without makeup, and everyone asks if you're sick or have insomnia," says Elting. The pressure to look our best in order to be treated better has also seeped into other areas of women's lives in which we sometimes feel pressured to make ourselves up in situations where it isn't required such as running out to the supermarket.
So, how do women begin the process of overriding this bias? Based on personal experience, Elting believes that women must step up and be forceful. With sexism so rampant in workplace, respect for women is sometimes hard to come across and even harder to earn. "I was frequently assumed to be my co-founder's secretary or assistant instead of the person who owned the other half of the company. And even in business meetings where everyone knew that, I would still be asked to be the one to take notes or get coffee," she recalls. In effort to change this dynamic, Elting was left to claim her authority through self-assertion and powering over her peers when her contributions were being ignored. What she was then faced with was the alternate stereotype of the bitchy executive. She admits that teetering between the caregiver role or the bitch boss on a power trip is frustrating and offensive that these are the two options businesswomen are left with.
Despite the challenges that come with standing your ground, women need to reclaim their power for themselves and each other. "I decided early on that I wanted to focus on being respected rather than being liked. As a boss, as a CEO, and in my personal life, I stuck my feet in the ground, said what I wanted to say, and demanded what I needed – to hell with what people think," said Elting. In order for women to opt out of ridiculous beauty standards, we have to own all the negative responses that come with it and let it make us stronger– and we don't have to do it alone. For men who support our fight, much can be achieved by pushing back and policing themselves and each other when women are being disrespected. It isn't about chivalry, but respecting women's right to advocate for ourselves and take up space.
For Elting, her hope is to see makeup and grooming standards become an optional choice each individual makes rather than a rule imposed on us as a form of control. While she states she would never tell anyone to stop wearing makeup or dressing in a way that makes them feel confident, the slumping shoulders of a woman resigned to being belittled looks far worse than going without under-eye concealer. Her advice to women is, "If you want to navigate beauty culture as an entrepreneur, the best thing you can be is strong in the face of it. It's exactly the thing they don't want you to do. That means not being afraid to be a bossy, bitchy, abrasive, difficult woman – because that's what a leader is."